Jane Russell died yesterday of respiratory failure at the age of 89. Though she had not been active in Hollywood since 1970, she was a legend, a pin-up girl for the ages, whose image helped many a lonely GI get through the night. She was also the main reason I got through my adolescence.
It may seem silly that a 16-year-old girl growing up in the late 1990s would have attached herself to an icon closer to her grandmother's age, but the fact is I grew boobs in the time of Kurt Cobain and Kate Moss. Heroin chic was the order of the day and a 16-year-old with DD boobs looks anything but. I wanted to look My So Called Life and always ended up looking a bit more Dolce Vita. My curves were not conducive to confidence.
Until I discovered Russell and Jayne Mansfield, Anita Ekberg, and Tura Satana (and Russ Meyer films). These pin-up girls reminded me of the things all the fashion magazines tried so hard to disprove -- boobs are not a figure flaw and they will always come back in style. Sure enough, here they are.
Sixteen years later, we have Scarlett Johansson and Christina Hendricks ushering in a new era of curves in the right places, and we have the earlier screen sirens like Russell to thank for that.
With her 38D rack, Russell smoldered up the joint and became a household name. But for an adolescent with similar measurements, she did a lot more than titillate. She and her ilk gave me the confidence to go low cut, to eschew flannel for more feminine, classic cuts that were not in circa 1995, but that flattered a more voluptuous figure.
We need a variety of body shapes in Hollywood, to be sure. This is largely because it's more reflective of the way the real world goes, but the fact is body shape is trendy just like anything else. For a large-breasted girl growing up in a flat-chested time, worshipping the screen sirens of yesteryear was a good way to get through it.
Boobs never really go out of style and they will always be sexy. Russell was a talented, intelligent actress beyond her boobs -- for which Howard Hughes famously commissioned a bra to flatter -- but she is, perhaps, best remembered for her lovely and sensual figure.
Maybe she resented that at times -- she was a religious born-again Christian from a conservative background who later claimed to regret her career choices -- but the fact is Russell, who starred in 18 more movies in the 1940s and '50s, most famously as Marilyn Monroe's sidekick in the 1953 legendary farce Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, was a screen icon. For some of us, she was even more than that.
RIP Jane Russell. You were more than your breasts, of course, but I still thank you for not being afraid to show them off.
Did you like classic pinups?
Image via Tobyotter/Flickr